Yapping filled the air, and three black dogs sprinted from the center of the caravan to greet them. They were each sleek as arrows—undoubtedly from the Crown Prince’s kennels. She knelt on one knee, her bound wounds protesting as she cupped their heads and stroked their smooth hair. They licked her fingers and face, their tails slashing the ground like whips.
A pair of ebony boots stopped before her, and the dogs immediately calmed and sat. Celaena lifted her gaze to find the sapphire eyes of the Crown Prince of Adarlan studying her face. He smiled slightly. “How unusual for them to notice you,” he said, scratching one of the dogs behind the ears. “Did you give them food?”
She shook her head as the captain stepped behind her, so close that his knees grazed the folds of her forest-green velvet cape. It would take all of two movements to disarm him.
“Are you fond of dogs?” asked the prince. She nodded. Why was it already so hot? “Am I going to be blessed with the pleasure of hearing your voice, or have you resolved to be silent for the duration of our journey?”
“I’m afraid your questions didn’t merit a verbal response.”
Dorian bowed low. “Then I apologize, my lady! How terrible it must be to condescend to answer! Next time, I’ll try to think of something more stimulating to say.” With that, he turned on his heel and strode away, his dogs trailing after him.
She scowled as she stood. Her frown deepened when she discovered the Captain of the Guard smirking as they walked into the fray of the readying company. However, the unbearable urge to splatter someone across a wall lessened when they brought her a piebald mare to ride.
She mounted. The sky came closer, and it stretched forever above her, away and away to distant lands she’d never heard of. Celaena gripped the saddle horn. She was truly leaving Endovier. All those hopeless months, those freezing nights . . . gone now. She breathed in deeply. She knew—she just knew—that if she tried hard enough, she could fly from her saddle. That is, until she felt iron clamp around her arms.
It was Chaol, fastening her bandaged wrists into shackles. A long chain led to his horse, where it disappeared beneath the saddlebags. He mounted his black stallion, and she considered leaping from her horse and using the chain to hang him from the nearest tree.
It was a rather large company, twenty all together. Behind two imperial flag-bearing guards rode the prince and Duke Perrington. Then came a band of six royal guards, dull and bland as porridge. But still trained to protect him—from her. She clanked her chains against her saddle and flicked her eyes to Chaol. He didn’t react.
The sun rose higher. After one last inspection of their supplies, they left. With most of the slaves working the mines, and only a few toiling inside the ramshackle refining sheds, the giant yard was almost deserted. The wall suddenly loomed, and her blood throbbed in her veins. The last time she’d been this close to the wall . . .
The crack of the whip sounded, followed by a scream. Celaena looked over her shoulder, past the guards and the supplies wagon, to the near-empty yard. None of these slaves would ever leave here—even when they died. Each week, they dug new mass graves behind the refining sheds. And each week, those graves filled up.
She became all too aware of the three long scars down her back. Even if she won her freedom . . . even if she lived in peace in the countryside . . . those scars would always remind her of what she’d endured. And that even if she was free, others were not.
Celaena faced forward, pushing those thoughts from her mind as they entered the passage through the wall. The interior was thick, almost smoky, and damp. The sounds of the horses echoed like rolling thunder. The iron gates opened, and she glimpsed the wicked name of the mine before it split in two and swung wide. Within a few heartbeats, the gates groaned shut behind them. She was out.
She shifted her hands in their shackles, watching the chains sway and clank between her and the Captain of the Guard. It was attached to his saddle, which was cinched around his horse, which, when they stopped, could be subtly unbridled, just enough so that with a fierce tug from her end, the chain would rip the saddle off the beast, he’d tumble to the ground, and she would—
She sensed Captain Westfall’s attention. He stared at her beneath lowered brows, his lips tightly pursed, and she shrugged as she dropped the chain.
As the morning wore on, the sky became a crisp blue with hardly a cloud. Taking the forest road, they swiftly passed from the mountainous wasteland of Endovier and into fairer country.
By midmorning they were within Oakwald Forest, the wood that surrounded Endovier and served as a continental divide between the “civilized” countries of the East and the uncharted lands of the West. Legends were still told of the strange and deadly people who dwelt there—the cruel and bloodthirsty descendents of the fallen Witch Kingdom. Celaena had once met a young woman from that cursed land, and though she’d turned out to be both cruel and bloodthirsty, she was still just a human. And had still bled like one.
After hours of silence, Celaena turned to Chaol. “Rumor has it that once the king is finished with his war against Wendlyn, he’ll begin colonizing the West.” She said it casually, but hoped he’d confirm or deny. The more she knew of the king’s current position and maneuverings, the better. The captain surveyed her up and down, frowned, and then looked away. “I agree,” she said, sighing loudly. “The fate of those empty, wide plains and those miserable mountain regions seems dull to me as well.”
His jaw tightened as he clamped his teeth.
“Do you intend to ignore me forever?”
Captain Westfall’s brows rose. “I didn’t know I was ignoring you.”
She pursed her lips, checking her irritation. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. “How old are you?”
“So young!” She batted her eyelashes, watching him for some kind of response. “It only took a few years to climb the ranks?”
He nodded. “And how old are you?”
“Eighteen.” But he said nothing. “I know,” she continued. “It is impressive that I accomplished so much at such an early age.”
“Crime isn’t an accomplishment, Sardothien.”
“Yes, but becoming the world’s most famous assassin is!” He didn’t respond. “You might ask me how I did it.”
“Did what?” he said tightly.